Toothaches: What Causes Tooth Pain and How to Treat It

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If you ever had a toothache, then you know the pain. It can be tough to eat, you might avoid hot or cold foods, and even talking can be problematic. Toothaches are common, and they can be caused by underlying dental issues or non-dental conditions.

Determining the cause of your tooth pain is the first step in treating it, so let’s look at the causes of toothaches. Then we’ll discuss treatment options, including some home remedies that offer temporary relief.

Types of Toothaches and What They Mean

Like most types of pain, toothaches aren’t all the same. One person might experience a dull ache while another has sharp pains. Understanding the type of pain is important.

Dull ache

A dull, continuous ache can mean a few things. Unlike other toothaches, you might be able to resolve some of these at home, but others require a trip to the dentist.

  • Food or debris stuck in your gums or between teeth
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Tooth abscess

If you simply have something stuck in your teeth or gums, it’s possible to remove it with a good brush and floss. However, bruxism and tooth abscesses require help from a dental professional.


Does eating ice cream or drinking hot coffee trigger pain? Experiencing temperature sensitivity typically means your enamel is worn down. You might be able to improve the situation by switching to a toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

However, if you notice that the pain lasts for a minute or more, it’s time to contact your dentist. Severe and lasting pain could indicate tooth decay, exposed roots, or other things that need to be treated by a dental professional.

Sharp Pain

Sharp, stabbing pain is typically a sign that you need to see a dentist soon. It could be anything from a loose filling or crown to a fractured tooth.


A throbbing pain is another indicator that you need a dental professional sooner than later. It’s typically cause for an emergency dental visit, especially if you also notice a strange taste in your mouth or discoloration of your gums.

Read more: Tooth Extractions: When Do You Need to Remove a Tooth?

How Do I Know If My Toothache Is Serious?

Knowing when your toothache requires an emergency visit might seem tricky when you’re dealing with pain. However, there are a few key signs that you need to contact your dentist for an emergency visit:

  • If you have a toothache that lasts more than a few days, you should see your dentist as soon as possible because this indicates a bigger problem.
  • Persistent or severe pain is another reason to see your dentist – wouldn’t it be nice to have relief?
  • A fever, earache, or jaw pain when you open your mouth are all indicative of a much larger problem.

If you experience any of these situations, it’s important to see a dentist immediately. Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics offers emergency dental care to ensure you get the care you need.

Book an Appointment

Dental Causes of Tooth Pain

There are several types of tooth pain that can mean different things. Understanding the root of your tooth pain can give you a good idea about the underlying cause and what type of treatment to expect. Remember, tooth pain generally doesn’t resolve on its own, you need to address the underlying problem.

1. Tooth Decay

When bacteria builds up and damages your tooth enamel it creates a cavity, which can cause pain. There are several signs you have a cavity, like small spots on your teeth.

2. Cracked Or Fractured Tooth

If you notice pain when you drink a cup of hot coffee or tea, it can be an indicator of a crack in the tooth. In some cases, it can also signal a leaking dental restoration, like a crown or filling.

When a tooth is cracked or fractured, you may experience throbbing pain caused by bacteria in the tooth. Bacteria present inside the tooth produce gas as a byproduct. When the bacteria releases the gas inside the tooth, there is nowhere for the gas to escape and the pressure inside the tooth builds and applies to the nerve tissue within the cracked tooth pain ensues.

3. Tooth Abscess

Damaged teeth can lead to tooth abscesses. The pulp inside the tooth dies and creates a pocket of bacteria and pus.

4. Exposed Dentin

From ice water to a candy bar, if you experience pain when eating sweets or drinking cold beverages, you may have exposed dentin. Dentin is the second layer of the tooth which has an osmotic property that allows fluids to move in and out of the tooth. These liquids flow through the dentin and can irritate the nerves inside the pulp of the tooth.

5. Chronic Bruxism

Commonly known as tooth grinding, bruxism can cause tooth sensitivity and facial pain. Many people grind their teeth in their sleep and may not even be aware of the habit until they notice tooth, gum, and jaw pain.

6. Gum Disease

Receding or inflamed gums can cause pain by leaving multiple tooth roots exposed. When gums recede and expose the roots, bacteria settles in and builds up around the tooth roots and can even break down the bone that stabilizes your teeth. The teeth loosen and cavities can develop.

7. Wisdom Teeth Pain

Pain from wisdom teeth can vary, but it’s most common in people with impacted wisdom teeth, teeth that have not erupted yet. Many people experience wisdom tooth growing pain and gum pain. If you experience pain in erupted wisdom teeth, it could signal a cavity or infection in or around the tooth.

Read more: Abscessed Tooth: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Non-Dental Causes of Tooth Pain

You may be surprised to learn that not all tooth pain comes from dental conditions. Many people experience tooth pain without having any of the above issues. It doesn’t mean their tooth pain is any less painful!

  • Sinus inflammation or infection can trigger significant pain in your teeth and jaw.
  • Diabetics who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels are at higher risk for tooth decay and related pain.
  • Cluster headaches can radiate pain into the teeth and jaw.
  • Viral infections, like shingles, can also trigger tooth pain.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disease, presents as sharp pains on one side of your face.
  • Some people experience jaw pain when they have a heart attack.
  • A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause tooth pain.

Treatment of these conditions should be discussed with your medical doctor. Maintaining regular appointments with your dentist can help manage any issues with your teeth and gums. You can also use some of the home remedies listed below to temporarily ease the pain.

Dental Treatment for Toothache

Treatment options vary depending on the cause and how extensive it is. Only dental treatments can offer long-term solutions, and you might require more than one intervention to find relief.


Dental fillings treat cavities. It’s one of the most common dental procedures and often the first step in alleviating a toothache caused by a cavity.

Root Canal

When a tooth becomes infected, you need more than a filling to resolve the issue. Root canal treatment involves the removal of the infected tissue before sealing the tooth to prevent future infection.


If your tooth pain comes from issues with tooth or jaw alignment, orthodontic treatment might be your best option. Correcting alignment issues could resolve toothaches that stem from crowded teeth pushing against each other.


Sometimes the only option for treating a toothache is to pull the tooth out. Tooth extractions can help in several situations.

  • The tooth is too damaged and the dentist cannot repair it.
  • Extra teeth or baby teeth are blocking underlying teeth from coming in so they need to be removed to make room.
  • Wisdom teeth often require extraction because they push against the existing teeth, which can disrupt alignment and cause pain.
  • Sometimes, an infection is too extensive for a root canal to help, so the tooth requires extraction instead.

Your dentist can determine the best treatment options and discuss them with you. If you’re experiencing tooth pain and concerned about treatment, Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics can help.

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Home Remedies for Toothaches

What happens when you wake up with a toothache in the middle of the night? It’s not like you can rush over to your dentist’s office at two in the morning. You still need sleep, right? Try some of these home remedies to ease the pain so that you can get some rest.

  • Over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can reduce your pain. You could also try a numbing agent with benzocaine to numb the affected area.
  • Cold compresses, like ice cubes in a towel, applied directly to your face for fifteen to twenty minutes can reduce pain.
  • Saltwater or hydrogen peroxide rinse could alleviate pain. The saltwater rinses protect against infection, remove debris, and act as an antibacterial. Food-grade hydrogen peroxide diluted with water can help as well.
  • Peppermint tea has antibacterial and antioxidant compounds. Swish the tea around your mouth or suck on the tea bag to reduce pain.
  • Clove paste (made from ground cloves and water) can reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area. You can also chew on a single clove.
  • Chew on a clove of garlic to relieve pain and take advantage of the strong antibacterial effects.

Keep in mind that home remedies can provide temporary relief until you can get to the dentist, but they won’t resolve the underlying issue.

Toothache FAQs

Do you still have questions about toothaches? We thought you might, so we compiled a list of the most common questions and answers to help!

How Do I Prevent a Toothache?

It’s impossible to prevent every cause of a toothache because accidents happen, but maintaining good oral care routines is your best line of defense. Since most of the causes of toothaches on our list relate to tooth decay and gum disease, start with brushing and flossing properly each day.

How Do You Make a Toothache Go Away?

The only permanent cure for a toothache is to treat the underlying cause. You can temporarily relieve the pain and discomfort with the above remedies, but only a dental professional can give you a permanent fix.

Why Is Toothache Worse At Night?

Toothaches tend to hurt more at night because we lie down. Lying prone in bed encourages the blood to rush to your head and that increased circulation puts more pain on the affected tooth.

Additionally, teeth grinding can make the situation worse. Oh, and you don’t have any distractions other than trying to fall asleep so that toothache can command more of your attention!

Will a Toothache Go Away?

No, a toothache will not go away on its own. Unless you resolve the underlying cause, it will keep bothering you.

How Long Can You Go with a Toothache?

Toothaches aren’t a test of will or pain tolerance, they alert you to a problem in your mouth that needs to be corrected. That said, unless you experience the emergency situations noted above, you can wait a day or two until you can get to the dentist. Remember, that the longer you put off treatment, the more you could end up dealing with down the line.

Which is the Best Painkiller for Toothache?

Typically, ibuprofen is the best option for most people. It helps with the pain but also reduces inflammation. However, if you have a health condition that prevents you from taking NSAIDs, you might want to try Tylenol or a topical agent.

When to See a Dentist for Your Tooth Pain

Some people treat their tooth pain with over-the-counter medications or home remedies, which may do the trick – temporarily. However, if your toothache stems from an underlying dental issue, no home remedy is going to permanently solve your problem and the pain will return in full force. Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

Seeing your dentist for a professional teeth cleaning and check-up twice per year can help catch underlying issues early. Your dental team can identify potential issues before they develop into problem areas. If you’re due for a check-up, book an appointment at the Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics office nearest you.

Book an Appointment

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